The Ciné Capri story began in 1964 when the Federal District Court of New York approved Arizona Paramount Theatres’ application to construct and operate a new motion picture theater in the Barrows Plaza at 24th Street and Camelback Road in Phoenix, Arizona. This step was necessary due to antitrust laws at the time.
Once court approval was granted, the Ciné Capri came to life when George M. Aurelius, vice president and general manager of Arizona Paramount Corporation and Henry George Greene, A.I.A., N.C.A.R.B., consulting architect to ABC Theatres, teamed with W.E. “Bill” Homes, Jr., president of Homes & Son Construction Company, Inc., and Ralph Haver, president of Haver, Nunn & Jensen, architects for Barrows Plaza. Rounding out the group was Spero L. Kontos, president of the Los Angeles based John Filbert Company. Their goal was to design, build and outfit a unique, state-of-the-art, motion picture facility that would complement potential neighborhood development and accommodate ever-changing film distribution and exhibition patterns.
–edited from George Aurelius’ personal notes, July, 1998
Construction soon began on the new theater. In fact, I’ll never forget one lazy Sunday afternoon when my dad asked me if I wanted to go see a movie theater. And me, being a bored kid on a Sunday, said, “Of course!” Here I was, thinking my dad was taking me to the movies. Imagine my surprise when we arrived at a construction site. Whatever it was, the walls were just starting to appear, so the first words out of my mouth were, “Where’s the theater?”
My father replied, “You’re standing in the middle of it.” He went back to checking on whatever it was that he had to check on, and that’s when I realized this building was something special. It was the only job site that I recall my father taking me to see.
These are the only known construction photos of the building, and they were taken sometime later. According to George Aurelius’ notes, to position the 124 foot long roof beams, a pair of cranes worked on opposite sides of the building. The crane operators, unable to see one another, communicated by two-way radio. Each beam was carefully hoisted over the top of the building, inched to its location, and then lowered into position.
At the time of its completion, the Cine Capri was a remarkable, state of the art motion picture theater. It was a 16,500 square-foot facility, featuring strikingly beautiful dual colonnades flanking both sides of the theater. The ten pre-cast white, sculpted, concrete columns weighed seven tons each, and supported overhangs with copper fascias cured to achieve an antique green patina. The patio off the east lobby provided shelter for waiting patrons and intermission breaks, while the larger western portico served as the main entrance. The entire lower building facade was overlaid with imported hexagonal jade Italian tile. In the center was a multi-panelled, twenty-four foot long, custom, antique stained glass window which served as the focal point, day and night, from inside and out. Low profile desert landscaping surrounded the Ciné Capri, featuring assorted palm trees, Russian Olive, and Italian Cypress trees punctuating the perimeter.
Upon entering the theater, patrons found themselves in a spacious two level lobby with clean modern lines. From the center could be seen Camelback Mountain and its Praying Monk rock formation. A generous oval confection area was situated in front of the auditorium back wall with working gold waterfall draperies duplicating the lavish auditorium decor.
The auditorium was enveloped in a lavish display of 4000 yards of lustrous antique gold fabric covering the proscenium and walls from carpet to ceiling, flooded from above with brilliant down lighting. The electronically synchronized gold front cascade drape moved on cue vertically at different speeds to reveal the title curtain behind, which opened horizontally to expose the film on a giant, curved screen which extended out to the fifth row of seats. This action of the draperies typically evoked spontaneous applause from the audiences.
With the Ciné Capri, continental seating was introduced to the community. This was a sloping floor plan in which the rows of seats flowed from side aisle to side aisle; eliminating the center aisle. The eight hundred high back, maroon rocking chairs were designed for comfort and perfect vision from every seat.
The Ciné Capri was also the first multipurpose theater in the southwest specifically designed to project all film aspect ratios of that time, including Cinemascope, Vista-Vision, and Cinerama from its 70/35mm projectors and stereophonic sound system, offering everything optically and visually available from around the world for superb tonal quality and visual pleasure.
–edited from George Aurelius’ personal notes, July, 1998
The Cine Capri celebrated its grand opening on Thursday, March 31, 1966, and it would be more than an evening premier. It would be an all day event to raise money for local charities.
The morning began with the arrival of Charlton Heston at Sky Harbor Airport. From there he was taken to the Cine Capri to host a youth drama clinic in the theater auditorium for several dozen high school and college drama students. This was followed by an afternoon invitational reception for VIP guests to meet personally with Mr. Heston. Those in attendance included community leaders, city and state officials, press, radio and television personnel, film studio and distribution executives, and neighborhood merchants. Also represented were theater executives, the architects, contractors, members of the building trades, crafts, suppliers, the Phoenix Art Council and the Phoenix Midtown Rotary Club Officials and sponsors of the evening charity program.
–edited from George Aurelius’ personal notes, July, 1998.
Waiting premiere attendees and fans who had come for the evening festivities gathered outside the theater and were entertained by the Scottsdale High School marching band. The outside grand opening activities concluded with the arrival of Charlton Heston in an open convertible. He was then slowly escorted through the crowd to the entrance where he “officially” launched the theater with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
Once inside the theater, patrons filed into the auditorium for the evening inaugural program, where Mr. Heston addressed the audience, suggesting they were most fortunate to have “this new, outstanding prototype of the motion picture theater of tomorrow” for them to enjoy.
The lights dimmed, the front drapes rose, and the opening credits fell on the title curtain which opened to reveal the premiere showing of the 20th Century Fox film, The Agony and The Ecstasy starring Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison. Thus a world class theater was born as the Ciné Capri officially came to life and began its distinguished third of a century run of great storytelling and dream spinning for all to enjoy.
–edited from George Aurelius’ personal notes, July, 1998
The Cine Capri opened to the general public on April 1, 1966. A few years later Arizona Paramount Corporation and ABC Paramount disposed of their theater holdings and withdrew from the community, and over the next three decades the Ciné Capri would be operated by several different companies, including Nace and Plitt. During this time the Cine Capri became a favorite venue for Valley movie lovers.
Like many Phoenicians, I too have many fond memories of the original Cine Capri. This theater hosted my eleventh birthday party when my friends and I went to see the animated version of Disney’s Jungle Book. It was where my mother practically ripped my arm from the socket during the snake pit scene in True Grit. (Mother had a horrible fear of snakes.) It was where my parents would later take me to see The Godfather, and it was where I had a first date with a college boyfriend when we saw, Logan’s Run. Then there was Star Wars. The following summer the same boyfriend and I stood in line to see Star Wars. And he liked it so much we went back a few days later. As I recall, Star Wars played at the Cine Capri for at least a year, perhaps longer.
In August, 1988, the locally owned Harkins Theatres chain assumed the lease for the Cine Capri. Like the Arizona Paramount Corporation, Harkins Theaters goes way back in Valley theater history. In fact, George Aurelius and Red Harkins, Dan Harkins’ father, were old friends, back in the day.
Sadly, Harkins would be the final operator of the original Cine Capri.
So here I am, thinking I’ve got this. I’ve got a highly skilled man working on the Cine Capri model, I’m working on the charity fund raiser for the museum opening, and we’re all good. Then I get a phone call from Harold Williams. Someone needs to recreate the famous stained glass window from the lobby, and that assignment goes to me.
Ever had one of those moments when you hear yourself saying, “Sure, I’d be happy to. No problem,” while at the same time, the voice in your head is shouting, “How the hell am I going to pull this one off?” Yep, it was that kind of a moment. Granted, I had a degree in art, but I’d spent the last few years laying out magazine pages and print ads on a Mac. This project would be something completely different, and something I’d never done before. Gulp!
Harold sent me a photo of the window, which I enlarged and taped to my kitchen window, and then I traced the basic outlines with a pencil. The next step was to dig up my old t-square and triangles, (could thing I hung on to them after going digital), and tighten up the drawing, taking my best guess as I added the details that didn’t present well in the photo. With that the hardest part was done. All that was left to do was to scan the drawing into the computer, fill in the colors with PhotoShop, and take the file to Image Craft for outputting the file onto clear film. Thank goodness Doyle, my model builder, sent me a detail drawing from the blueprints, so they would have the proper scale for the output. Then, voila, it was done. The “window” went back to Doyle, and it remains on the model today.
The original window was created by a glass artist in New York. At the time the original Cine Capri was built, Camelback Mountain could be seen from this window, and the stain glass was designed to be a representation of the sun rising over Camelback Mountain. As the neighborhood grew and developed, the view of the mountain became obstructed, but I think “Uncle” George had this in mind when he had the window commissioned. Unfortunately, he no longer had any record of who the artist was, much less have any of the artist’s drawings, which means I’ll never know for certain if my recreation is completely accurate or not. It is, however, a very close facsimile.
One evening back in February, 2002, a friend and I were driving down a lonely stretch of highway on our way to Yuma, Arizona, when my phone rang. Back then you could answer your phone while you were driving, so I took the call. Harkins Theaters would be recreating the portico columns from the original Cine Capri on the new Cine Capri, but first they needed the renderings from the original blueprints, and did I by chance have them?
Well, yes and no. No, I didn’t have them on me at that exact moment, but no worries, I would be happy to provide them with a copy as soon as I got back to town. And, true to my word, as soon as I got back I delivered a copy of the column drawings to the subcontractor and voila, the columns were rebuilt. I guess we could say this was my personal contribution to the new theater. And what an honor and a privilege to be able to do so.
On Saturday, June 28, 2003, a few days after the opening of the new Cine Capri at the Scottsdale 101, Wayne Kullander invited George Aurelius and me for a special, behind the scenes tour of the new theater.
Wayne Kullander and George Aurelius have a long history together, as Wayne worked for “Uncle” George, back in 1966, when he was the inaugural manager of the original Cine Capri. And, watching these two men together was like watching two kids in a candy store. “Uncle” George was in his nineties, but you wouldn’t have known it. Even after all the years that had passed, both still enjoyed each other’s company. Along with reminiscing about the past, they talked for what seemed like hours about about the changes in sound and projection systems, seat design, and concessions. But for me, what was the most gratifying, was to see George Aurelius, the man responsible for the creation of the original Cine Capri, and the man who gave the theater its name, give his stamp of approval to the new Cine Capri.